The Apple of My Pie


cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgThanksgiving 2015 is right around the corner…. you’re probably smack dab  in the middle of menu planning so here’s a suggestion to toss into the mix, if you don’t  already make pies for the holidays –  why not start a family tradition this year and let the baking begin!

But what to bake?  This time of year I say go with tradition and start with apples. Local apples.  If you think the availability of locally grown North Carolina apples is just for the months of September and October, think again. The local NC apple harvest is  still in full production and these  juicy GotToBeNC gems make  holiday pies all the better!

To make the process all the easier, I’ve got a fool proof pie crust recipe to share that comes out perfectly every time  making your holiday baking easy as…. well, you know.

24_PieCrustsIf you can’t get into making from scratch crust, no worries, no stress –  I recommend working with Immaculate Bakers’ Refrigerated Pie Crust – works  like a charm every time and its organic!

Crust done, lets get back to the apples. If you have limited yourself to eating only the well known Red Delicious variety of apples, you might be surprised to learn just how many different types of apples there are in the world and even more surprised to find out that the state of North Carolina ranks seventh in apple production in the United States. Amazingly, according to my friends at the NC Dept of Agriculture, our Old North State has over 200 commercial apple operations comprised of 9,000 bearing acres of apple orchards and  turns out millions of bushels of apples each year, about 60% of them are used in juice and applesauce production.

NC apples bestWhile apples are a staple in every grocery store produce department, like everything else – fresh picked from the farm local produce is always your best choice and apples are no different – North Carolina’s apple producing region centers primarily in the mountains around the Haywood and Henderson counties, the Mt. Mitchell area, and Wilkes and Yadkin counties. The better part of the apple trade in North Carolina comes from trees producing Red and Golden Delicious apples as well as Rome Beauty, Stayman and Gala varieties; but  Empire, Fuji, Honeycrisp, Suncrisp, Jonagold, Granny Smith,  Arkansas Black, Crimson Crisp, Cameo, Pink Lady, Goldrush,  Limbertwig, Rome, Blacktwig and  Mutzu  apples grow in our area, too, as well as hundreds of other heirloom or antique varieties.

North Carolina’s apple growing season runs from July to late December and a quick day trip up to the mountains early this week  will prove to land a tasty harvest from any one of the many roadside stands you’ll pass along the way. If you are in Charlotte, its under a two hour drive up to see my friends at Perry Lowe Orchards in Moravian Falls, NC up on Highway 16 South where they pick approx 4 million apples each apple season from some 29,000 apple trees that grow on the 6th generation North Carolina farm.   

While all apples are good for eating,   I lean toward the sweet-tart to tart varieties  like Granny Smith, Macintosh, Empire, Pink Lady, Honeycrisp and Limbertwig for cooking, finding they fare better baked, steamed or fried then a lot of the sweet apple varieties. Figure three medium sized apples, cored and sliced, to measure about a cup.

apple ciderApples are also great for juicing, on their own or mixed in your own house blend – try them juiced with mango and banana or use them to slightly sweeten your favorite green juice blend – yum!

Rich in pectin, high in potassium and weighing in at only 61 calories per medium apple, this popular fruit helps to keep cholesterol in balance,  the high potassium/low sodium ratio of apples can reduce cardiac problems and has been touted as a help in regulating tension headaches, too.  With  ZERO FAT and 5 grams of fiber per serving, apples are a great snack food and good to enjoy at every meal.

perry Lowe dried applesOnce you purchase fresh apples, they are best kept under refrigeration, as room temperature apples soften 10 times faster than they will in the refrigerator. While you’re gathering the fruit, don’t forget about a jug or two of fresh homemade cider – hot or cold, there’s nothing quite like it and while you are at the Perry Lowe Orchards apple house don’t miss the packages of dried apples made from 10 different varieties of their fresh picked harvest – a real treat that lasts all year long and is great for cooking as well (see the fried pie recipe below).

Like all of us if you are pressed for time this week and can’t drive up to the mountains before Thursday’s feasting, the happy news is that local NC apples are available at lots of local farmers’ markets in and around Charlotte and across the state as well. And farmers market shopping isn’t just a weekend affair – lots of local  and regional markets are open weekdays this week right up until the holiday.


Foolproof Pie Crust

Makes enough for one 9-inch double-crust pie

2 1/2 cups  organic unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp.  sugar
12 Tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into small bits
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water

Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds .

Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture.  With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.


apple tartHeidi’s Apple and Pistachio Tart

Dough for one nine-inch pie


1/2 cup powdered sugar

4 Tbsp. butter, softened

1 1/3 cup ground pistachios

2  eggs

3 Tbsp. cream, for glazing


2 Tbsp. honey

3 Tbsp. butter

¼ cup apple cider

Roll the dough out on a sheet of parchment paper and then fit into a 9 or 10-inch false-bottom tart pan. Chill the pastry shell in the refrigerator.

To make the pistachio cream: Combine the sugar and butter and beat until creamy. Gradually add the ground pistachios and the  egg.

Spread the pistachio cream in a smooth layer in the bottom of the pastry shell.

Cut the apples into thin slices and arrange then in concentric circles on top of the pistachio cream.  Bake the tart on a baking sheet in a preheated 400-degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven drizzle with honey butter cool slightly  and serve

For the Honey Butter: In a saucepan combine the honey, butter and the sweet white wine. Stir to mix. Bring the honey mixture to a boil and cook until it has reduced by half.


Heidi’s Two Crust Apple Pie

½ cup sugar

¼ cup brown sugar

3 Tbsp. flour

2 Tbsp cinnamon

1 Tbsp. cardamom

Pinch of salt

8 cups peeled and cord apples, cut into chunks

¼ cup butter, melted

Dough for two 9-10 inch rounds


Combine sugars, flour and spices with apples and butter, toss well. Reserve.

Fit a 9-inch deep dish pie pan with a pie crust. Spoon filling into crust, mounding it slightly in the center. Top with another crust, this one slightly bigger so that you have about an extra inch of crust around the edges.

Fold the top crust under the edge of the bottom crust to seal and then crimp edges with your fingers or a fork to give a decorative finish. Cut decorative slits in top crust to allow steam to escape while baking. Place pie on a baking sheet – to catch any juices that might come out during baking – brush top crust lightly with milk and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 1 ½ hours, or until crust is a delicious golden brown.

Perry Lowe Orchard’s Fried Apple Pies 

1 package of your favorite variety of Perry Lowe Orchards Dried Apples 

3/4 cup sugar

1 t. ground cinnamon

1 t. vanilla extract

(2) 10 oz. Cans canned biscuits ( or use your favorite pie crust recipe)

Vegetable Oil

Combine apples and water to cover in medium sauce pan.  Cook over medium heat until tender and dry.  Add sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla.  Stir well and set aside.  Separate biscuits and roll each biscuit into 5-inch circle on lightly floured surface. Or roll out your favorite pie crust dough to 1/4 inch thickness and cut into 5-inch rounds.  Place 2 tablespoons apple mixture on 1/2 of each biscuit circle.  To seal pie, dip fingers in water and moisten edge of circle.  Fold in half, making sure edges are even.  Using a fork dipped in flour, press edges firmly together.  Heat oil to 375 degrees in dutch oven or electric frying pan.  Fry pies until golden brown on both sides, turning once.  Drain on paper towel.  Yield 10-12 fried pies.

Note:  To bake pies place on lightly greased baking sheet bake at 450 degrees for 12-14 minutes or until golden brown.






As Much Fun To Make As It Is To Eat – Happy Popcorn Month!

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODOctober is National Popcorn Month, so let me be the first to say Happy Happy!   I don’t know about you, but when my thoughts turn to popcorn, my food memories kick in and I go back to a time before microwaves and air poppers.

Like many of you, I go back circa  mid to late 1960’s. My brother Jaimie and I were 8, 9 or 10ish and when we were in need of a snack, our mom would let us make Jiffy Pop. If you know me, you know I’m a sucker for a culinary gadget and the Jiffy Pop “cook it in the package” marketing was – at the time – the ultimate. I loved the process probably even more than the popcorn itself, inspired, as were many my age by the classic commercial with the magic genie in the lamp touting this popcorn as “The Magic Treat” “… as much fun to make as it was to eat”  Before we go further – take a step back in time and watch it with me now…  


popcorn popper advertisementIf you didn’t have the luxury of Jiffy Pop, then  you had to go back to the kettle type electric popcorn popper or a large heavy pop on the stove – both required working with hot oil and at least to my mom’s mind – were too dangerous for us to handle ourselves.

As I got older electric popcorn poppers became a bit more refined and when I was in college ( again in the days before microwaves) we used the non stick bowl or base of our electric popcorn poppers much like an electric skillet to cook everything from Kraft macaroni and cheese ( boiled first in the small hot pots we used to heat  coffee, tea and soup) to browning ground beef or searing hamburger patties as much as we used it to make popcorn.

As I recall my popcorn popper then was made by Hamilton Beach and I  know I opted for Flame Red over the Avocado Green and Harvest Gold colors offered. I honestly don’t really recall that it was endorsed by Joe Namath, but according to this old Spiegel Catalog ad – looks like that was the case.

Today technology has sadly eliminated the need for the same type of culinary creativity we had to muster back in the day and  most people turn to the microwave to pop corn ( and make Mac and Cheese), but if you ask me – I still like popcorn popped in oil on the stove – calories or no – its all about the flavor.

popcorn with spicesNow, instead of vegetable oil I suggested using canola oil to start and then finish the fluffy popped kernels with a drizzling of real melted butter and a sprinkling of sea salt;   or mix it up a bit with a grating of aged Parmesan cheese or a blend of salt and pepper; or better yet take a trip over to The Savory Spice Shop – I’m a regular at Charlotte’s SouthEnd location  – Let owners Amy and Scott McCabe and their friendly staff help find one or two spice blends of flavor combos you like. Then just sprinkle them on and let the snacking begin!


However you pop it, Celebrate in style this month! Make some popcorn from scratch and enjoy life the old fashion way, one buttery kernel at a time… and then use the leftovers ( or pop a second batch) to make either of the two sweet treats or for a savory splash of popcorn, grind the popped kernels and use them in place of bread crumbs to crust chicken or fish or in addition to the flour for a bit of texture in your next batch of homebaked bread, pancakes or waffles  – Happy National Popcorn month!


hhfmolassesInstead of buying commercial brown sugar -I like to make my own by combining ¾ cup of organic sugar and ¼ cup local molasses and stirring until well blended. Worth noting here that my go to for molasses is local NC Sorghum Syrup molasses from Harrell Hill Farms – Doug Harrell tells me they’ve just finished up the 2015 season and its bottled up and ready to roll – order you can buy it in several shops up and around the Burnsville. NC area or call and order directly from the farm – for more details visit ) Now onto the recipe…

10 cups popped popcorn

1 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup local honey

1 cup butter

1/8 tsp cream of tartar

Pinch of fine ground salt

1/2 tsp. baking soda

2 cups dark chocolate chips


Divide the popcorn and spread in simgle layers over two large parchment paper lined baking sheets with sides.

Combine the brown sugar, local honey, butter, cream of tartar, and salt in a medium saucepan over a medium-high heat. Stir constantly and bring to a boil for about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and quickly stir in the baking soda.

Pour the caramel over the popcorn and stir gently until all the kernels are coated.

Bake for 1 hour in a preheated 200 degree oven, stirring every 20 minutes. Add the chocolate chips during the last 2-3 minutes of baking. Pull from oven and stir once again to mix chocolate in and around the caramel corn.  Allow the popcorn to cool on the pan as the hot caramel is VERY hot, then, break the cooled pieces apart for easier eating and storage. When it has cooled, store  the popcorn in a tightly sealed container and enjoy!

pink popcorn ballsHomemade Popcorn Balls

I first made these about the same time I first made Jiffy Pop. My very first cookbook was  “Betty Crocker’s Boys and Girls Cookbook” among my favorite  recipes was the one for Pink Popcorn Balls – you can make these any color with just a few drops of your favorite food coloring and if you want to add a bit of flavor, add a quarter to half tsp of any extract or flavoring for a treat fun of any occasion!

6 cups popped popcorn

3 Tbsp. butter

1 (10 ounce) package marshmallows

Melt butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted.

Remove from heat.  Add popped popcorn and  toss with a buttered spatula to coat. Coat your hands with melted butter or wear plastic gloves and shape the warm coated popcorn into balls. Allow to cool on a waxed paper or parchment paper lined tray, then wrap with plastic wrap to hold, or enjoy on the spot!


Summer Faves: Fried Green Tomatoes

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODI don’t know who decided to fry the first green tomato – but I’m glad they did! Credited with strictly Southern roots, a quick bit of investigative research indicates that recipes date back as far and the mid to late 1800s, several from Jewish and Kosher cookbooks, too.  The popularity of this crunchy summer favorite, however, soared with the popularity of Fanny Flagg’s novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe  and  later the movie of the (abbreviated) same name in the late 1980’s. Since then chefs around the country, and perhaps the world, cleverly continue put innovative spins on the basic batter, bread and brown technique.

green tomatoes

Fresh picked green tomatoes from Tega Hills Farm in Ft. Mill SC. Mindy Robinson of THF sells to the public on Saturday Mornings at the Matthews Community Farmers Market and at the Yorkmont Regional Farmers’ market in Charlotte, NC

Anyway you fry it, do try this fabulous summer treat before the seasons end.

As I write this, it is August in the Carolina’s and ’tis the season for the late harvest of red ripe juicy tomatoes. But before these gems turn red, they’re firm and green and equally delicious to their red ripened counterparts. As is the case for ripe and heirloom tomatoes of all sorts, the best place to buy green tomatoes is from a local farmer and any local farmers market – or you could grow them yourself, but I have found over a long period of summer growing seasons, that I am much better cooking with tomatoes than growing them) so I am happy to rely on the harvest of local farms and farmers with greener thumbs than mine to stock my tomato larder.

The tomatoes photographed for this blog post and for the Charlotte Today television segment with which these recipes coordinate came from Tega Hills farms in Ft.Mill SC and Black’s Peaches in York SC  – always most important, I think, to Shop Local so you can Eat Local.

Heidi on ct set with green tomatoesThis week I cooked with Local South Carolina green tomatoes, pairing them with ripe red tomatoes, Fishing Creek Creamery Goat cheese from Chester South Carolina and Clemson Blue Cheese from Clemson South Carolina as well. If you’d like to see the video presentation  from this week’s WCNC Charlotte Today broadcast, click here then come back for all the details, recipes and more.

Quartered green tomatoes from Black's peaches in York South Carolina, tossed with watermelon, arugula and Clemson Blue Cheese for another version of a tasty late summer salad

Quartered green tomatoes from Black’s Peaches in York South Carolina, tossed with watermelon, arugula and Clemson Blue Cheese for another version of a tasty late summer salad

Of course green tomatoes aren’t just for frying, cut them and toss in spices and vinegar to make your own house pickles, season with salt and pepper to use in place or in addition to cucumbers;  or scoop out, stuff and bake as you would bell peppers.


Three Ways, and then some, to serve Summer Fried Green Tomatoes

fried green tomatoes - gerinMaster Recipe


By Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto

2-3 local firm green tomatoes, thick sliced

organic All Purpose Flour

2-3 local or organic eggs

dry seasoned bread crumbs

canola oil or your favorite Extra Virgin Olive Oil


Dip each slice of tomato first into the flour, then eggs, then bread crumbs

Dip each slice of tomato first into the flour, then eggs, then bread crumbs

Dip each slice of tomato first into the flour, then eggs, then bread crumbs. The secret is to allow the battered and breaded green tomatoes to rest on a wire rack, for at least a minute or two before you fry.  This time allows the egg, flour and bread crumbs to firm up around the tomato and create a bond that will not come off in the hot oil. To fry the breaded green tomatoes traditionally, Heat about ½ inch of oil in a sauté pan or frying pan using wooden spoon test

Heidi's Wooden Spoon Test to see when  oil is hot enough to fry

Heidi’s Wooden Spoon Test to see when oil is hot enough to fry

To test to see if the oil is hot enough for frying, place a wooden spoon in the pan of oil. As the oil heats, little bubbles will form around the edge of the spoon just as they would if a piece of food were in the pan frying – when you see the little bubbles, the oil is hot enough to fry.

To fry with less fat, use a non stick pan and coat lightly with a flavorful olive oil. Brown as you sould in the greater amount of oil.

When the oil is hot, put the breaded tomato slices in, cooking just until brown. Remove from oil and drain on several thicknesses of paper towels.

Joes tomato salad The Flipside Cafe

The idea for these sliced Fried Green Tomato croutons came from Chef Joseph Cornett of The Flipside Cafe in Ft. Mill SC

Lots of ways to serve – with pimento cheese and red ripe tomatoes for a stack;  with watermelon, local goat cheese and arugula for a late summer salad;  in a Parmesan casserole as you would fried eggplant or chicken; cut into Fried Green Tomato croutons to top a ripe tomato salad; or with the bacon jam recipe found below, layered  with local lettuce and slices of ripe tomato for an innovative BLT.

Spread green tomato slices with soft local South Carolina chevre from Fishing Creek Creamery in CHester SC or Clemson Blue Cheese from Clemson SC; and then proceed with the Master recipe for a cheesier version of fried green tomato flavor

Spread green tomato slices with soft local South Carolina chevre from Fishing Creek Creamery in Chester SC or Clemson Blue Cheese from Clemson SC; and then proceed with the Master recipe for a cheesier version of fried green tomato flavor

For another variation on the theme, spread sliced green tomatoes with soft local goat cheese. Refrigerate to keep firm. Coat and bread the cheese and tomato “stack” as you would just the tomatoes in the Master Recipe.

Variation on t he theme - top tomatoes with your favorite local cheese and then bread and fry

Variation on the theme – top tomatoes with your favorite local cheese and then bread and fry

Serve drizzled with Balsamic vinegar and enjoy this last taste of the summer season!


The perfect Fried Green tomato condiment:

Bacon and Local Pepper Marmalade

Recipe by Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto

1¼ pounds sliced bacon, diced

2  local onions, finely chopped

2 organic carrots, peeled and finely chopped

2 organic celery stalks, finely chopped

1-3 sliced local jalapenos or hot peppers

2¼ cups North Carolina apple or South Carolina peach cider

⅓ cup red wine vinegar

2 Tbsp. local molasses ( my favorite by far is from Harrell Hill Farms in Bakersville, NC)

1 tablespoon fresh or dried thyme or savory leaves, roughly chopped


Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add the chopped bacon and cook until browned, stirring often, for 4 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions, carrots and celery and sliced Jalapenos, cooking until the vegetables are tender, 6 to 7 minutes.  Pour in the cider and the vinegar, increase the heat to high and cook until the liquid is thick, 7 to 8 minutes.

Stir in the  molasses, cooking until the bacon looks glazed, about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and move the skillet to a cool burner. Stir in the thyme leaves and cool to room temperature.

Serve immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days.



QUEEN CITY FOOD FIGHT: Charlotte Chefs Take the Spotlight

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODIt is said that a rising tide lifts all boats, when one wins they all win, and so it is  in the Charlotte culinary community. As a food writer and restaurant critic here in the Queen City, I have seen this to be true.  In an industry with a general reputation toward  egocentric representatives, Charlotte chefs and culinarians are for the most part a breed apart working together to promote the whole and help each other along the way.

You find this kind of camaraderie here and there in other cities, but in Charlotte it really seems to be something special. So much so that when the Piedmont Culinary Guild was originally formed with founding members Chef Luca Annunziata, Chef Kris Reid and writer Cat Harris, they came up with the idea of All Ships Rising as it related to the local Charlotte and greater Piedmont region culinary community and wanted to try to equally promote the things Guild members were involved with as well as all their culinary accomplishments to make our community and the rest of the world aware of all the depth and breadth of  culinary talent we have here in the Queen City.

guild logoTo do so they came up with the Hashtag #PCG_Charlotte to use on all their social media posts.  Chef Paul Verica of Heritage Food & Drink  and Provision’s Market, both in Waxhaw took it a step further and started using the hashtage #CLTRising in his social media.  Recently Chef Bruce Moffett of Barrington’s, Stagioni and Good Food on Montford, not a Guild member but a long time, well known and much loved chef in the Charlotte community has started a campaign complete with a hashtag as well – #CharlotteCooksToo.  All in an effort to promote what Charlotte chefs do, and do quite well, day in and day out in restaurants, at catering venues and in Cooking Schools.

When one gets a nod, the industry here gets a nod.  When one wins, we all win. All ships rise.

That’s not to say that chefs in the greater Charlotte area don’t enjoy a little competition, on the contrary they are happy to take part in a friendly fisticuffs now and again. Hence the success of the very popular GotToBeNC Competition Dining series in this area –  with which, as many of you will know, I am involved doing social media and local farmer/ producer and sponsor relationships –  as well as several other competitive events.

food fight posterEnter the first Queen City Food Fight – a challenge from one group of Charlotte area chefs to another . The North Carolina chapter of the American Culinary Federation, a national networking organization for chefs and culinary professionals, challenged the Piedmont Culinary Guild, a Charlotte-based member-only ensemble of chefs, farmers and other members of our culinary community, this food writer included, to a food fight.

In a friendly throwdown format, four teams of chefs from both sides, prepared four separate incredible courses. This first of what I am sure will become an annual event was held Sunday August 30 in the teaching kitchens at Central Piedmont Community Center’s Van Every Culinary Center.

Celebrity judges for the first ever Queen City Food Fight: from left, Matt, Kathleen and George

Celebrity judges for the first ever Queen City Food Fight: from left, Matt, Kathleen and George

The chefs brought their best to the table while QC Food Fight Guests and the trio of Celebrity Judges –  George Smith of Copper Barrel Distillery, Kathleen Purvis of The Charlotte Observer and Matt Morano, Charlotte Meteorologist – had the opportunity to rate every course, ranking each one using a list of criteria including taste, presentation and overall appeal.

the wine line up - all localEach dish was paired with a North Carolina wine and several wine makers and representatives of wineries were on hand to pour and chat with Food Fight guests.  In the house and in each glass, were fine samplings from RayLen Vineyards, Jones and Von Drehle Winery, Divine Llama Vineyards and Childress Vineyards.  While the wine and food pairing was not a consideration in the voting, I will note that I thought the pairings were spot on each bringing out the best in both food and wine.

bartender from HauntIn addition  and in included in the ticket price, were two drink vouchers and guest also enjoyed a choice of two signature Queen City Food Fight cocktails made with local spirits from NC’s own Copper Barrel Moonshine, especially prepared for the event by mixologist, Kevin Gavagan  of Haunt Bar in Charlotte

The Queen City Food Fight team from ACF North Carolina

The Queen City Food Fight team from ACF North Carolina

All the dishes showed well,  but this day, at this food fight, it was the chefs from the Piedmont Culinary Guild who took the overall win from the judges and the People’s Choice win, as well as  the win for best plate. Best plate honors were a tight race between Chef Jon Fortes of The Flipside  Cafe and The Flipside Restaurant in Ft Mill and Pastry Chef Ashley Bivens of 300 East in Charlotte and Heritage Food & Drink in Waxhaw.

Ummm, hard to choose between perfectly done pork belly with a killer green tomato chimichurri and the rich creamy bruleed butternut squash and chocolate creameux. This year, chocolate wins and Chef Ashley and her team took home the bragging rites.

The Queen City Championship Team from Piedmont Culinary Guild in Charlotte

The Queen City Championship Team from Piedmont Culinary Guild in Charlotte



Well deserved kudos to all the participating chefs  who supported the first Queen City Food Fight event and cheers to the dishes they prepared so well.    Its competition yes, but in the end its an intentional collaboration within the Charlotte culinary community to put Charlotte area chefs and restaurants front and center.  Its working. Attention is being paid.

If you didn’t attend, or perhaps weren’t aware of the event, you most certainly want to put it on your radar for next year. In fact, You’ll also want to know that the ACF and Piedmont Culinary Guild both sponsor lots of great culinary events, open to the public, throughout the year. Best to follow each organization on social media to keep abreast of what is happening and when it is taking place. In the meantime though, here is a pictorial taste of what you missed at the Food Fight with recognition to  the chefs who made it happen. For more fun photos taken throughout the event, visit my FaceBook Page at Heidi Billotto  or Heidi Billotto Cooks.

First the four plates from The Piedmont Culinary Guild chefs and then the four from the American Culinry Federation NC chefs – all in all they made for a simply delicious Sunday afternoon. #CLTRising #PCG_Charlotte #CharlotteCooksToo

PCG amuse by Blake Hartwick


PGC Amuse: Rappahannok Oyster amuse from chef Blake Hartwick of Bonterra Dining and Wine Room  in Charlotte


PCG appetizer by Paul Verica


PCG Appetizer: Chef Paul Verica of Heritage Food & Drink’s interpretation of Local Corn and crab with Roasted Bell Pepper, Basil and Chipotle


PCG entree by Jon Fortes


PCG Entree: 5 Spice heritage farm BBQ Pork Belly with deconstructed porchetta “Deviled Ham”. cripsy pork rind, root and green tomato chimichurri by Chef Jon Fortes of The Flipside Restaurant


pcg dessert by ashley bivens


PCG Dessert: Bruleed Butternut Squash & chocolte cremeux, chocolate shortbread & Ganache, Vanilla Squash puree, Squah Souffle cake, Cinnamon Ice Milk by pastry chef Ashley Bivens Boyd of 300 East and Heritage Food & Drink


acf amuse by Melissa Cherry


ACF Amuse: – “Hop, Skip, Sip to a Chilly Alibi”, Alibi Beer Poached Shrimp, corn buttermilk and goat cream, Hops garnish by Chef Melissa Cherry



ACF appertizer by


ACF Appetizer: “Carmelized Watermelon Reaper” Carolina Reaper Pressed & Pickled Watermelon, Redux of Micro greens, Mini Southern Sourdough Biscuit, Smeared Fig & Watermelon Jam by chef Kris Siuta, executive chef, Carowinds


ACF entree by chef


ACF  Entree: ” Three Sisters from the Mountains” Flash Fried Cornmeal Trout, Corn Squash and Bean Succotash, Farro Risotto, Grape and Heirloom Tomato Relish by chef Phillip Lloyd of The Art Institute in Charlotte


acf dessert by


ACF Dessert: ” Smoked peaches and Cream” Creamed Goat cheese phyllo tart, Smoked peaches, molassed cram anglaise, Sweet Charleston Tea-infused pecans, chocolate mint by chef Emma Barnes, pastry chef-instructor, CPCC


In Celebration of Julia Child

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgThis past Saturday, August 15 2015  would have been Julia Child’s 103rd birthday.

julia in color photo

Julia Child on the WGBH set of The French Chef 1963-1973

Child, who passed away in August of 2004 was our nation’s grande dame of cuisine and my personal  culinary hero. She got her  start at what would become  her lifelong career because she wasn’t afraid to take a chance and then happened to be in the right place at the right moment and made it work; but I don’t think even she had any idea of what her eventual  impact would be. She took her passion and ran with it, with wild abandon, to lead the charge to change the culinary world. She brought the style and technique of French cuisine to American home cooks first in a two volume culinary tome, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, VOLs. 1 and 2, which she co-authored; and then continued to influence the world via of number of her own television series. It all started with The French Chef produced by Boston PBS station WGBH in 1963 .

Ask any food writer, chef or culinary professional and they probably have a Julia Child story.

My Julia Child story started in the mid 1960’s when I was eight or nine. I loved to watch what was then the first television show of its kind, the new Julia’s PBS series, The French Chef.  I wasn’t so interested in cooking at first, as much as I was fascinated by Julia herself, her attitude and her panache; to say nothing of all of the little bowls into which each and every ingredient was placed, the mis en place, ready for Julia to whip into something wonderful. And I loved her flourish as she raised her glass and to toast us all goodbye and “Bon Appetit!”

julia child on set

Back then, the home I grew up in in Jacksonville, Florida was set up so that my brother Jaimie and I shared a large bathroom fitted with a lengthy vanity and large wall mirror situated low enough to the counter top that we could see ourselves without having to stand on a stool.

Inspired by Julia, I would often while away hours by taking a few pots and pans and every little bowl I could find with me into the bathroom, cover the sink with Mom’s well-worn wooden cutting board and would pretend to cook, with all of the Julia –like flourish I could muster, watching myself in the mirror just as I had watched my mentor on television.

Several years later my parents gave me my very own copy of The French Chef Cookbook and encouraged me to move from the bathroom to the actual kitchen, where I began to cook for real.

Fast forward to September 2001. I was living in Charlotte, North Carolina and was teaching cooking classes  and catering and working as a food writer and restaurant critic.  The 40th Anniversary edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia’s first cookbook, originally published in 1961 had just been released. In promotion for the new edition, Julia Child was available for interviews. I set up the interview and dialed the number the PR people had given me. Low and behold it was Julia’s home and I got her answering machine. In her own unmistakable warble, she explained that “no one was home right now, please leave a message…”  I left my name. Later that day, I came home to find a message on my machine.

“ Hiiiiiideeeee, Julia here…” My heart raced, I think I may have actually stopped breathing for a moment. She was headed out to dinner with friends but I could call her back in the morning. I don’t think I slept a wink that night.  I saved her message on the machine ( in a time before the world was digital, like most of the rest of the world I had a mini cassette tape voice recorder) for months until the tape  finally broke from repeated play.

Heidi Billotto 2003 at The Julia Child Kitchen exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC

Heidi Billotto 2003 at The Julia Child Kitchen exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC

I never met Child in person, but had the great good fortune to interview her over the phone on two occasions. Initially in that first conversation with this culinary icon, I stammered and stumbled over my questions, unable to think of much more than the fact that I was actually speaking on the phone with Julia Child. She was her delightful and unpretentious self and immediately put me at ease. After a while it was like chatting with an old friend. She even asked me for a recipe.

“I hear your fried chicken is really quite good down there,” she said. “Would you send me the recipe, if you have a good one?”

Julia Child asked me for a recipe – I was floating on cloud nine. I mailed a recipe off the next day and still have her number and address in my old paper bound address book.

A native Californian, Julia graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts in the 1930’s. At that time women were expected to graduate to become be a nurse or a secretary or a wife and a mother, but that was not for her.

“I just wanted to have a good time,” she said. And she did. In 1944, she found herself in working in Washington DC in the office of War Information. She was later upgraded to the Office of Strategic Services or OSS, the precursor to the CIA and was sent on assignment to Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, to gather intelligence during World War II. In Ceylon she met the man who would become her husband, Paul Child. Just after the war the Childs moved to Paris, France where he was a diplomat at the American Embassy.

If you have seen the movie Julie & Julia or much better still, read the book “My Life In France”, then you know the story, but I am so honored that I heard it first from Julia herself.

Julia told me that she had taken French all of her life, but when she got to France, she couldn’t say a word.

“At least not a word that anyone could understand,” she laughed. “My husband was practically bi-lingual; he was taken for French all the time, but somehow I could just never pull it off.”

Eventually she found herself looking for something to do and began taking a culinary class set up for housewives at Le Cordon Bleu. Her interest piqued and Julia talked the famous culinary school into admitted her to a training class for former GI’s offered as a part of the GI bill. After six months of classes she was hooked! “This was for me”, she said. Indeed.

Heidi Billotto's much loved and much used collection of Julaa Child cookbooks

Heidi Billotto’s much loved and much used collection of Julia Child cookbooks

Friends and fans have continuously celebrated and applauded her life and her career. All of her cookbooks remain in publication and several of her television shows are syndicated. Video clips are now available on itunes and YouTube and she even has her own Facebook Page!


While Julia refused to ever allow her name to be attached to a kind of cookware or kitchen utensil brand, in 2000-2001 she did allow her good friend Gary Ibsen, a grower of more than 400 varieties of heirloom tomatoes and founder of the annual Carmel TomatoFest in Carmel, California, to name a tomato for her. Her only request was: “That it be tasty.”

Julia Child in 1992 from kitchen at her home in Cambridge, Mass.

heidi with Julia Child tomatoes

Heidi Billotto early summer 2015 with Julia Child Heirloom variety tomatoes from The Matthews Community Farmers Market

Ibsen complied and today one can purchase packets of seeds for The Julia Child Heirloom Tomato through Ibsen’s website  where you can also read a bit about Ibsen’s long time friendship with Julia and his memories of her.

If you live in or around Charlotte NC, early in the tomato season  the Julia Child variety is available from farmers Cathy and Eric McCall of Great Falls, SC at  the As Hot As Possible Hot Pepper and Herb Farm booth at the Matthews Community Farmers Market.

I look forward to tomato season every year, but ever since I realized that the tomatoes Julia herself told me about so many years ago are available locally for me, the season has taken on a whole new meaning. Sort of my own personal, you heard it here first kind of story.

The kitchen Julia and Paul Child shared in their Cambridge. MA home, the same kitchen seen in her last three PBS television shows, was disassembled in November of 2001 when Julia moved back to California. Julia donated the kitchen to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in the hope that it would inspire home and professional cooks to ”make your kitchen a real family room and an important part of your lives.”

Literally millions of visitors a year, “tour” Julia’s kitchen. It has been rebuild exactly as it was and encased in clear glass walls so visitors can peep in where windows, doors and wall used to be and see it all in all its glory. Julia was a gadget person and as she told me, “sort of a knife freak.”  That is an understatement. Julia’s collection of kitchen gadgetry is amazing and it’s all there, including the knives lined up on magnetic strips and the pots and pans hanging on the pegboard wall. It’s a wonderful exhibit – a must-see for culinary enthusiasts of any age. If you don’t have time for a trip to the Smithsonian right now, you can take a virtual tour of the kitchen at and hear Julia’s thoughts on making the donation and having the kitchen open and available for everyone to see and visit.

Julia child in kitchenJulia Child lived a full and happy 91 years of life. Much success, many cookbooks, television shows and a multitude of special guest appearances have studded her culinary career of some 42 years. She helped to found several professional organizations for the culinary trade, including the American Institute of Wine and Food and the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Thanks to Julia’s efforts and influence, many scholarships now exist for up and coming chefs who otherwise might not be able to attend culinary school or invest the time required to train in the field.

Heidi Billotto 2008


Over and above that she has influenced many more of us than she would have ever know, including a little girl who pretended to cook in front of the bathroom mirror and now gets to do it for real.

We raise our glasses to you Julia, Happy Birthday and  Bon Appetit!


Competition Dining Heads to Greenville, South Carolina

Logo500x200 - laurel wreathThe Competition Dining Series Greenville, a single-elimination tournament highlighting the best of the state’s food, agriculture and culinary talent, will pit 14 highly competitive chefs against each other in its upcoming series in the South Carolina Upstate. After  years of competing across the state of North Carolina, the summer of 2015 marks the first foray for Competition Dining across state lines into South Carolina. Each  of the 13 interactive Greenville battles will be hosted at Larkin’s Sawmill from Aug. 3 through Sept. 7. Tickets, info on participating chefs & more are available online. at the Competition Dining website.

travelers rest frms market signAs many of you know, I travel with the Competition Dining team, as the voice behind all of Competition Dining’s social media; as a liason between all of our  current and potential sponsors; and as a connection between the chefs and literally hundreds of North and South Carolina farmers. I love scouting local farmers markets and niche grocery stores in each region in which we compete, looking for great product to feature in  battles in Raleigh, Winston-Salem, Charlotte, NC and now in Greenville, SC, too!

greenville sat market photoThe Greenville farmers’ markets are the bomb, from the Downtown Greenville TD Saturday Market to the market at Travelers Rest. If the crowds are any indicator, its a sure thing that Greenville locals know that shopping Local is the only way to go!  I can’t wait for Competition Dining Greenville guests to taste all the great LOCAL Certified South Carolina product we’ve found to feature in each of the Greenville Battles; and I can’t wait to see how our 14 Greenville series chefs showcase it all!


comp dining promoCompetition Dining is the Carolina’s favorite culinary sport. At each dinner, two teams of chefs battle it out, each preparing three courses centered on a secret featured regional ingredient. Ticketed guests from across the Carolinas arrive the evening of competition to savor a six-course meal without knowing which chef prepared which dishes. Unlike any other cooking competition, attendees vote on each course using their smart device and a specially designed app, and ultimately help determine who moves on to the next round and who goes home. It’s addictive and you’ll most certainly want to come & experience it more than once!



Greenville chefs FB cover Best                                   The Greenville  SC Series Brackets:

Quarter Finals:

Semi Finals:

  • August 31 Dinner: Winner of Aug 19 Battle versus Winner of Aug 25 Battle RESERVATIONS
  • September 1 Dinner: Winner of Aug 24 Battle versus Winner of Aug 26 Battle RESERVATIONS

       Grand Finale:   September 7 Dinner: Winner of Aug 31 Battle Versus Winner of Sept 1 Battle                                                                                             RESERVATIONS
OwnerJimmyCrippenindiningroom“Since we started these battles, Competition Dining Series has hosted hundreds of chefs and thousands of community members in North Carolina,” said Jimmy Crippen, Competition Dining Series founder and host. “We’re thrilled to do the same in Greenville with the launch of our first South Carolina series. We have chefs from here in Greenville and all over the region, and it’s sure to be a highly competitive tournament.”



By the end of the 2015 season, the Competition Dining Series will have hosted 80 individual teams of Carolina chefs in three regions of North Carolina: Raleigh, Winston-Salem & Charlotte as well as the series in Greenville, SC.

Graze team shrineUltimately, five regional winning chefs will have received a grand prize of $2,000 and a handmade chef knife by Ironman Forge and each winning team member will have been awarded with Competition Dining’s coveted Red Chef Jacket.  Additionally, all five regional championship teams win the right to move on to compete in the Battle of Champions Final Fire held in October in Raleigh, NC.

Winners and winning teams so far for the 2015 season include: Chef Ryan Conklin and team REX Healthcare in Raleigh; Chef Joe Cornett and team The Flipside Restaurant in Rock Hill, SC and Chef Brent Martin and team The Summit Room in Charlotte, NC and most recently Chef Richard Miller and team Graze in Winston Salem.

Who will the Greenville, SC winner be? Only time will tell. But time goes fast, so if you want to come and see for your self, make your Greenville reservations now!

An interactive culinary experience, Competition Dining is unlike any other dining event in the country. and as host Jimmy Crippen is fond of saying, “Its the most fun you can have on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday night!”

Make Your Reservations Today Online at; click on the Greenville Icon OR SIMPLE USE THE RESERVATION LINKS IN THIS POST. I’ll be at each and every Greenville Battle – Hope to see you there! 

For more information: visit or get in on the conversation at and @CompDiningNC on Twitter or Instagram



The 2015 GotToBeNc Competition Dining Series Springs into High Gear in the Queen City

BlackCompDiningLogoGet ready to enjoy North Carolina’s favorite Culinary Sport – tickets on sale NOW

If you thought you had to wait until late summer to enjoy North Carolina’s favorite culinary sport in the Queen City – think again. This year the GotToBeNc Competition Dining series kicks off the first weekend of Spring with a record breaking 24 chef line up! Charlotte can be proud to celebrate the fact that this, the largest Competition Dining series in history, will take place here from March 22 – May 19 with competitions on most Sundays and every Monday and Tuesday evening. Each of the dinners in Charlotte will take place at Bonterra Dining and Wine Room.

The fun each night starts as guests gather for libations starting around at 6 pm and each dinner kicks off promptly with a dramatically fun video presentation at 6:45.

jimmycrippenAs in years past here in Charlotte and at other series across the state, Competition Dining operates with a focus of bringing the chef, the farmer and the diner together.

Competition Dining creator Jimmy Crippen personally hosts each event with a genuine enthusiasm for what he does. from handling the introduction of chefs, judges and media  to personally walking dinner guests to their seat. His number one rule is to have fun; and that means everyone, from the chefs in the kitchen to the guest in the dining room.

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODIt has been my great pleasure to have gone from the official blogger of the Charlotte series to working as a part of the Competition Dining team.  At dinners across the state, my role is not only blogging the play by play after the fact; but also reporting it to you and the wining and dining public live as it happens via the Competition Dining social media on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Between dinners when I am not teaching cooking classes, catering or otherwise writing from my home base in Charlotte, I am the Competition Dining Sponsor Ambassador, garnering supportive companies, commodities, farms and individuals anxious to be a part of this state’s favorite culinary sport; and I assist chef Ref Bobby Zimmerman in the finding and selection of the much anticipated secret featured ingredients for each night’s battle – needless to say I am in my element and having a blast!

Ironman Forge knife by Charlotte Bladesmith Steve Watkins

Ironman Forge knife by Charlotte Bladesmith Steve Watkins

But enough about my role at Competition Dining dinners each night  – let’s turn the guys and gals that make this competition what it is – twenty four of this area’s most competitive chefs, each leading a team of three, vying for the bragging rites to the title, the coveted red chefs jacket from ALSCO, a custom made knife from Charlotte’s own Bladesmith Steve Watkins of Ironman Forge, and a check for $2000 plus entree into the Final Fire to be held this year in Raleigh on Halloween weekend!


Now that you know the what, when and where, here is the who and the how – the Charlotte line up of competing chefs with links to buy tickets for each individual battle! Come to one or come to them all – but whatever you do, don’t miss out – its so much fun – like eating at two of your favorite restaurants at the same time and enjoying a ton of North Carolina produce and product in the process. Can’t wait to see you there!

The Preliminary Round Battles

Battle March 22


On Sunday March 22, the Competition Dining Battle field finds Chef Miles Payne of littlespoon in Charlotte up against Chef Ryan Forte of Southminster Retirement Community in Charlotte. For Tickets visit

Battle March 23

On Monday March 23 its Chef Paul Verica of Heritage Food and Drink in Waxhaw battling it out with Chef Vincent Giancarlo of Cantina 1511 in Charlotte For tickets visit

Battle March 24


On Tuesday March 24 the action heats up between Chef Tom Marlow of Mimosa Grill in Charlotte and Chef Ben Miles of BLT Steak in Charlotte. For tickets visit March 29


The Competition Dining battle on Sunday March 29 finds Chef Joseph Cornett of The Flipside Cafe in Ft. Mill, SC up against Chef Jon Ernst of Cafe Monte French Bakery and Cafe in Charlotte. For tickets visit

Battle March 30


On Monday March 30 Chef Mike Suppa of Vivace Charlotte goes head to head against Chef Melissa Joy Claude of Joy’s Bistro in Boone NC For tickets visit


Battle March 31The first two weeks of the Charlotte prelims end on Tuesday March 31 with Chef Aaron Rivera of the soon-to-be-open Tapas 51 in Ft. Mill up against another South Carolina culinarian Chef Neil Bratton of Local Dish also in Ft. Mill. For Tickets visit

Slide84The preliminary rounds continue in April just after the Easter holiday with a battle on Monday April 6 in a battle that finds two non-traditional restaurants up against each other. Chef John Morey of Delaware North exec chef for the Bank of America Stadium vs Chef Brady Lutz, exec chef at the Cypress of Charlotte retirement community.  For tickets visit


On Tuesday April 7 its Chefs Ryan Daugherty & Eric Litaker co-exec chefs of Dogwood Battle April 7 Southern Table and Bar take on Chef Travis Garrett of The Mandrake Small Plates and Wine. For Tickets visit

The Quarter Finals

With this new 24-chef Competition format, the brackets have been set as one would for two 12-chef brackets – In the end there will be two championship rounds and eventually two Charlotte series champions will go to the Final Fire to compete for statewide bragging rites and the big prize package.

To keep things fair and the brackets in place, 8 returning Competition Dining chefs drew byes and automatically go on the compete in the series quarter finals against winners of the eight preliminary rounds. These are chefs who have competed in Competition Dining series in Charlotte and Asheville in years past.

Here are ticket links and competitors for the quarter final rounds:

Slide86Returning on Sunday April 12 is the 2014 Competition Dining City Finalist Chef Tom Dyrness of Mama Ricottas Restaurant. he will go up against the winner of the March 22 battle. For tickets to the April 12 event visit


Slide87Returning on Monday April 13 is  2014 Fire on the Rock semi finalist, Chef Steven Goff of the King James Public House in Asheville, NC. Steven will battle the winner of the March 23 battle. For tickets to the April 13 event visit

Slide88Returning on Tuesday April 14 is 2014 Fire in the City Quarter Finalist Chef David Moore from Gallery Restaurant in Charlotte David faces the winner of the March 24 battle. For tickets to the April 14 event visit


Slide89Returning on Sunday April 19 is 2014 Fire in the City Quarter Finalist Chef Chris Coleman from The Asbury in Charlotte. Chris goes up against the winner of the March 29 battle. For tickets to the April 19 event visit  


Slide90Returning on Monday April 20 is 2014 Fire in the City competitor Chef Clark Barlowe of Heirloom Restaurant in Charlotte. Clark will battle the winner of the March 30 battle. For tickets to the April 20 event visit

Slide91Returning to the Competition Dining ring on Tuesday April 21 is 2014 Fire in the City competitor Chef Ben Phillpott of Block & Grinder in Charlotte. Ben will take on the winner of the March 31 battle. For tickets to the April 21 event visit

Slide92Returning to the Competition Dining battle on Monday Tuesday April 27 is 2014 Fire in the City competitor Chef Brent Martin of The Summit in Charlotte. Brent will face the winner of the April 6 battle. For tickets to the April 27 event visit


Slide93Returning to battle in the last quarter final battle of 2015  on Tuesday April 28 is 2014 Fire on the Rock competitor Chef Michael Fisera of Lexington Avenue Brewery in Asheville. Michael will battle the winner of the April  7 event. For tickets to the April 28 event

comp dining promo

Semi Final and Grand Finale Rounds

After the 8 quarter final battles the chefs still standing will go into the semi final and final rounds  – tickets for those events are still available, but moving fast and will most certainly be sold out by the time those battles come around -so You Be The Judge -pick your battles and  purchase your tickets now at

I’ll be looking to see you there – Cheers!